A Gritty Take on the UCI Gravel World Championships: A Paper Tiger – by Guitar Ted
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) is holding its inaugural “Gravel World Championships” this weekend in the Veneto region of Italy. The acknowledged leading authority on professional level bicycle racing had heretofore not given any credence to the long standing competitions on gravel roads held in the U.S.A. and elsewhere around the world for the better part of the last two decades. However; now the august organization has suddenly taken an interest in this form of cycling competition.
Somehow we all knew, speaking of those of us that have been involved in the “gravel family” for years, somehow we knew that the UCI would wheedle its way into gravel event promotions. It was regarded by those veterans of the gravel scene as something that might alter gravel racing and riding negatively. To be fair, there were those who also pointed to the UCI’s, and by way of association, the U.S.A. based USAC organization’s, capabilities in holding ordered, finely tuned events that would have weight in the way that an independent promoter of a single gravel event could not have. However; there were more people that thought the UCI, despite itself, would never “get things right”. Now, on the eve of this weekend’s events in Italy, cries of foul are being heard regarding how the UCI is implementing this “world championships”.
Obviously any organization that says it has a “world championship” winner in any venue of sport is a bit of a farcical notion, but let’s play along anyway. First, we have the selection of athletes and where they come from. Out of the 138 Pro males racing there are five from the USA. It’s quite likely you may never have heard about them, or many of the rest of the athletes in that field. On the women’s side things are a bit more familiar with regard to the names on their list, but there are only 48 women in the Pro field total.
So, it’s a bit hard to take any of that too seriously when the UCI, supposedly the bastion of legitimacy when it comes to level of competition, seems to be having a tough time fielding a representative, fair, and level field of competitors. Granted, this is the first year for them…..
Then you have the course. According to its own description, the “world championship course” is only 3/4’s gravel. Add in that one of its two featured climbs is on asphalt and one has to wonder if this is a serious “world championship level” challenge or some kind of poor joke. You might also mark in that linked article describing the course that it has a whopping 800 meters of ascent. A half a mile? Can that be right? Oh, and that’s only for the men. The women race a shorter course with 100 meters less ascent. You know, because…….well why, actually? Doesn’t that seem a bit weak and arcane? One might even say that it was a bit sexist.
Most of the well regarded gravel events here in the USA are events with pretty challenging distances. Unbound’s 200 miles, Gravel Worlds, (the Nebraska based event that’s been around for 13 years now) is 150 miles, and others which regularly feature 100+ mile courses, are considered to be quintessential gravel competitions. However; the UCI must have been living in some kind of vacuum since their “world championships”, so-called, is a distance of 102 miles. Oh, and that’s for the men, of course, because the UCI is only allowing the women to ride 87 miles.
Looking at this event the UCI is touting as the crowning achievement in the sphere of cycling we know as “gravel”, I have to wonder, is this to be taken seriously? Can we really believe we are looking at a “world champion of gravel cycling”, or is this just a puffed up title because the UCI says so? Does a rainbow jersey from the UCI for gravel cycling have any meaning, or is this just a paper tiger?
At one time many of us in the gravel cycling community felt that the UCI would “ruin” gravel cycling. I don’t think that is the case. The UCI has just made gravel cycling a joke, and it isn’t very funny at all.
Note: the thoughts and opinions of Guitar Ted are his own and may not reflect those of the rest of the contributors or partners in Riding Gravel.